Hey Joe: My dad was a Brooklyn Dodger fan, and I became a Dodger fan as well, so I can't remember not knowing about Jackie Robinson. What can baseball and America do to help educate kids today about what Jackie did for America on and off the field?
Paddy Flanigan, St. Charles
Shamefully in a supposedly "civilized" nation, the heroics of Paul Robeson never reached the peak of exposure accorded Jackie Robinson, although both fought their racial battles alone. Robeson, a Phi Beta Kappa at Rutgers and later a law student at Columbia, was a multitalented individual. Robinson's brilliance was much more publicized regarding his exploits at UCLA, but in the sense of the word "education," it has to be defined as one perceives it. Too many perceive it as having attended some college or university, which is far from the truth. I perceive it as knowing who you are and from whence you came, like Robeson and Robinson. Robeson's varied talents and outspoken defense of civil rights brought him many admirers but also made enemies among conservatives trying to maintain the status quo. Robinson was the modern-day patriarch of the civil rights movement, predating Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
While at UCLA Robinson, who was doing what came natural in athletics (as Robeson was at Rutgers), was spotted by Jimmy Dykes, then the Chicago White Sox manager. Dykes, it has since been recorded, called the White Sox top brass to report that he saw a "colored boy" playing baseball whom he would be too glad to pay $50,000 to play for the White Sox. Nothing more was heard of this.
Following Robinson's college days, he was inducted into the military, where he served as a lieutenant. One day while riding a post bus, he was ordered by the white civilian driver to take a seat in the rear, which he refused to do. This incident occurred because the driver was under the impression that a light-skinned lady Robinson sat beside who was his friend's wife was white. For this he was court-martialed.
Several years after his discharge, he, along with other black players, tried out for so-called major league teams but was rejected. When joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, his nonviolent approach to subdue adversaries by turning the other cheek set the stage for the civil rights movement. A decade later, it was led by Dr. King.
Baseball has lost its appeal in black America. I'm quite sure that it is the educational system in America that needs a rude awakening. The recent action of Metro High School students in St. Louis points in that direction. Initially, they occupied the mayor's office in protest of their school losing accreditation and later traveled to the capitol in Jefferson City to complain to lawmakers about a state takeover. Since most students were black and because Missouri was a slave state, it would have been unprecedented if they had demanded a test in their school concerning blacks' history in America. I'm not a betting man, but I would have bet that both black and white students would have failed the test, as would have most black and white teachers, in spite of their "degrees." If this same test were applied throughout the country in the best high schools and colleges, black and white, all would lose accreditation. Then the playing field would be leveled. The educational system then could start over again the right way. Until this occurs, there aren't too many "educators."
Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn't know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman's Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.
Perhaps Henry's most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they'd arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.
Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.
After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.
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